Ball v. District No. 4, Area Bd. of Vocational, Technical and Adult Educ.

Decision Date27 March 1984
Docket NumberNo. 83-503,83-503
Citation345 N.W.2d 389,117 Wis.2d 529
Parties, 16 Ed. Law Rep. 934 Philip D. BALL, William N. Camplin, Henry Haslach and Rebecca Young, Petitioners/Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. DISTRICT NO. 4, AREA BOARD OF VOCATIONAL, TECHNICAL AND ADULT EDUCATION, Respondent/Defendant-Respondent-Petitioner.
CourtWisconsin Supreme Court

Thomas G. Ragatz (argued) Madison, for respondent/defendant-respondent-petitioner; Michael B. Van Sicklen, Gordon Davenport III, and Foley & Lardner, Madison, on brief.

Robert L. Gruber (argued), Madison, for petitioners/plaintiffs-appellants; Scott Herrick and Reynolds, Gruber, Herrick, Flesch & Kasdorf, Madison, on brief.

Frank Jablonski, Madison, for Wisconsin's Environmental Decade, Inc., amicus curiae.

John W. Calhoun, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom on brief was Bronson C. La Follette, Atty. Gen., Madison, for the State Board of Vocational, Technical and Adult Education, amicus curiae; Edward S. Alschuler, Madison, of counsel.

DAY, Justice.

This is a review of a decision of the court of appeals 1 reversing a judgment of the circuit court for Dane county, Honorable Robert R. Pekowsky, circuit judge. The circuit court summary judgment in favor of District No. 4 Board of Vocational, Technical and Adult Education (Board) in effect authorized the Board to proceed with its existing building program; discharged the plaintiffs' writ of mandamus to stop construction; and dismissed their petition for declaratory judgment. The issue on this review is: Does Section 38.15, Stats. 1981-82, which requires voter approval by referendum of "building program actions approved by the [State VTAE] Board after January 31, 1980," apply to the Madison Area Technical College (MATC) project. We conclude that the MATC project was approved by the State Board within the meaning of the statute prior to the effective date of January 31, 1980, and is therefore exempt from the referendum requirement. We therefore reverse the decision of the court of appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court.

This case marks the latest step in a decade-long effort by the District 4 VTAE Board to build new facilities for the Madison Area Technical College. The Board's authority to construct new vocational, technical and adult education facilities derives from chapter 38 of the Wisconsin Statutes. That chapter establishes a statewide system of vocational, technical and adult education with overall responsibility for policy direction and administration of the VTAE system vested in a single State VTAE Board. Section 38.02, Stats. This statewide system is divided into sixteen regional vocational, technical and adult education districts. Each district is administered by a statutorily created District Board. Section 38.08. Among the powers granted to the District Boards is the power to borrow money and levy taxes to be used for the purchase, construction or enlargement of buildings and for the acquisition of sites and equipment. Section 38.16(2). District Board proposals for land acquisition, additional or new facilities and rental and remodeling of existing facilities must be approved by the State Board. Section 38.04(10).

In 1980, the legislature amended chapter 38 to require voter approval by referendum of certain capital expenditures by District Boards. 1979 Wis.Laws ch. 221. That provision, which is codified at Section 38.15(1), Stats., states:

"38.15 Financing of capital expenditures. (1) Subject to sub. (3), if the district board intends to make a capital expenditure in excess of $500,000 for the acquisition of sites, purchase or construction of buildings, the lease/purchase of buildings if costs exceed $500,000 for the lifetime of the lease, building additions or enlargements or the purchase of fixed equipment relating to any such activity, it shall adopt a resolution stating its intention to do so and identifying the anticipated source of revenue for each project and shall submit the resolution to the electors of the district for approval. The referendum shall be noticed, called and conducted under s. 67.05(6m)(b) to (e) insofar as applicable. For the purposes of this section, all projects located on a single campus site within one district which are bid concurrently or which are approved by the board under s. 38.04(10) within a 2-year period shall be considered as one capital expenditure project."

Section 38.15(1), Stats. is expressly made subject to Section 38.15(3). That subsection states:

"(3) This section applies to building program actions approved by the board after January 31, 1980. This section does not apply to capital expenditures in excess of $500,000 which are fully funded by gifts, grants or federal funds or to building remodeling or improvement projects."

The question presented by this case is: Did the State Board approve of the MATC project prior to January 31, 1980. If it did, the project is exempt from the referendum requirement of Section 38.15(1).

The sequence of events in which the Board claims to find State Board approval of the MATC project began with a State Board meeting held on November 27, 1973. The minutes of that meeting reflect that the State Board's Facilities and Finance Committee had discussed location of a facility for District 4 and that the District Board had looked into a number of sites. The minutes state that the District Board was under pressure from various individuals to establish facilities separate from each other rather than an integrated campus. The Board was informed that the Facilities and Finance Committee had recommended to the State Board that it was interested in an integrated campus and requested a plan from them for developing such a campus. There was a question as to what was meant by an integrated campus and the response that it is a setting where students can move freely between educational activities. A motion was made and carried to notify District 4 that the State Board was interested in an integrated campus.

Over the next eight years there followed a number of State Board actions on District 4 Board proposals regarding the MATC facility. On October 15, 1974, the State Board met and approved a resolution from the District Board "regarding locating Madison Area Technical College at the East Washington Avenue site...." On November 5, 1974, the district's voters passed a referendum authorizing the District Board to borrow up to $30 million to construct expanded facilities. The referendum sought voter approval to borrow the funds necessary for the new facility without specifying the location or layout of the campus. The referendum asked:

"Shall the Area Board of Vocational, Technical and Adult Education District No. 4 borrow the sum of not to exceed $30 million for the purchase or construction of buildings and additions, enlargements and improvements to buildings and for the acquisition of sites and equipment by issuing its general obligation promissory notes pursuant to S. 67.12(12), Wis.Stats.?"

The voters passed the referendum. At its November 19, 1974 meeting the State Board noted that the District Board had successfully conducted a referendum obtaining voter approval of the bond issue and passed a motion to "go on the record commending District 4 on their efforts in getting the $30 million bond referendum passed."

On January 25, 1975, the State Board adopted a resolution approving the District Board's request to borrow $30 million for construction of the expanded facilities. The District Board proceeded to issue the necessary bonds. The East Washington Avenue site was abandoned after the Madison city attorney issued an opinion stating that the District Board lacked the condemnation authority necessary to procure the property for an East Washington Avenue campus.

The next State Board action on the MATC facility came on August 10, 1976. At that time the State Board approved a District Board proposal to locate the new facility at Truax Field. The resolution adopted by the Board stated:

"NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the petition by the Madison area district board for approval of the Truax Field site be approved and that the district board be advised to proceed on the basis of that approval."

The Truax Field site was subsequently removed from consideration after a circuit court decision held that the District Board could not proceed with construction until it obtained a satisfactory environmental impact statement.

The next site proposed by the District Board was in the town of Burke. This proposal was heard and approved on November 21, 1978. This site was also abandoned following a circuit court ruling that construction of the campus could not proceed until a satisfactory environmental impact statement was obtained.

Finally, on October 16, 1981, subsequent to the effective date of Section 38.15, Stats., the State Board adopted a resolution approving the District Board's proposal to locate the expanded MATC facilities at the existing North Carroll Street and Commercial Avenue sites and to construct new facilities at Truax. The State Board's resolution stated:

"WHEREAS, the District Director at the request of the Area Board of Vocational, Technical and Adult Education No. 4, pursuant to S. 38.04(10), Wisconsin Statutes, requests permission to site their expanded facilities at 211 North Carroll Street, the Technical Center at 2125 Commercial Avenue and the Truax Airpark, and ...

"WHEREAS, the Area Board of Vocational, Technical and Adult Education No. 4 was granted permission by the Wisconsin Board of Vocational, Technical and Adult Education, pursuant to S. 38.04(10), Wisconsin Statutes on January 28, 1975, to borrow the funds approved by the voters in a referendum held November 5, 1974, and to construct expanded facilities,

"NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Area Board of Vocational, Technical and Adult Education No. 4 be granted permission to site their expanded facilities at...

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